Basil pecan pesto

Made a basil pecan pesto tonight with basil from my and my neighbor’s garden and pecans sent from my dad in Georgia. Talk about awesome!

We topped the pizza with mushrooms, onion, baby sunflower greens and plenty of cheese :)

To make pesto use about one cup of basil leaves, a quarter cup of pecans, walnuts, pine nuts or pistachios, a quarter cup of parmesan cheese and two cloves of garlic. Pulse in the food processor for a few minutes. Hit the “purée” button and stream in olive oil until you have a nice smooth consistency. It’s great to experiment with different herbs and nuts too. Go wild!

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Grilled Squash and Tomato Salad

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This little gem (or disgusting plate depending on how you look at it) is my latest salad creation.  It turned out great!

I sliced 2 yellow squash vertically to create long pieces of squash.  I did the same with 1 zucchini to get 4 pieces of zucchini.  I drizzled these with oil, salt and pepper and grilled them for about 5 min each side.

In the mean time I sliced a large tomato into 6 round slices and thawed some sweet corn.  I also picked some basil from the backyard.

To assemble:  Place a slice of tomato on a plate.  Top with 1 slice squash and 1 slice zucchini.  Repeat layers.  End with a slice of squash then a tomato topper.  Sprinkle on a handful of corn kernels and feta cheese.  Add chopped basil and drizzle the whole thing with a homemade ranch dressing (recipe below).

This was so good!  We had to eat it with a knife and fork, but what a great way to change up your salad for the summer AND use up some zucchini!

Ranch Dressing:

1 cup plus 1 large spoonful of mayo (I like Best Foods light)

1 cup of milk

1 splurp (about 1/2 tbsp) of dijon mustard

1 tbsp dried parsley

1 tbsp dried chives (or fresh if you have them)

1 heaping tsp garlic powder

1 heaping tsp onion powder

salt and pepper

Mix everything in a large bowl with a whisk, pour into a tupperware container and chill.  This will be pretty thick the first few days, but you can always thin it if you like with a little more milk.

Summer Salads

Hopefully a great new salad recipe coming up shortly…in the meantime, this one is awesome:

http://www.sunset.com/food-wine/kitchen-assistant/sunset-best-recipes-2010-00418000070388/page2.html

 

It’s a cherry tomato and asparagus salad.  I’ve substituted green beans (fresh just sauteed) for the asparagus before and used feta instead of blue cheese.  It’s one of those that, once you learn it, you can make all kinds of changes to!

Thai Shrimp Lettuce Wraps

For anyone following along,  I am still going through my cookbooks though I sort of got stuck on the Rachael Ray one once I found an awesome caesar salad dressing recipe…but this recipe is not from any book.  It’s a Jewels original!

Thai Shrimp Lettuce Wraps with Peanut Sauce and Lime Cream

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The amount made here would work for 2 people if you had a side dish like eggrolls, spring rolls or jasmine rice. 

1 head of boston or butter lettuce.  Iceberg might work too.

14 medium sized ez-peel raw shrimp (more or less)

about 2 cups of shredded cabbage

1/2 of a zucchini julienned

1 carrot julienned

a quarter of an onion thinly sliced

about a cup of snow peas thinly sliced

garlic

FOR TOPPINGS:

cilantro

scallions

fresh chiles like serrano or thai chiles

Thai Peanut Sauce

Fish Sauce

Lime (1 small one juiced)

Sour cream

Soy sauce

Ginger

Prepare all the vegetables (carrots, cabbage, onion, snow peas, zucchini) before you start cooking.  It’s easier.  Chop 2 cloves garlic and heat those in 1 tbsp canola oil.  Add the cabbage and carrots first.  Saute a few minutes.  Add the juice of 1/2 a lime, 1 tbsp fish sauce and about 1/8 of a tsp grated ginger.  Add the rest of the veggies and saute for about 5 minutes, just until they all start to wilt and soften.  Add the shrimp.

While that cooks, mix about 1/4 cup of peanut sauce, 1 tbsp soy and 1 tbsp lime juice.  Taste and adjust to the way you like it. Add about half of this mixture to the shrimp and veggies.  They should be almost done by now.  As soon as the shrimp are no longer translucent you can turn off the heat and just leave the pan there for a few minutes.

Mix 1/2 cup of sour cream with about 1/4 cup of lime juice (maybe start with 1 tbsp and taste as you go). 

Chop some fresh cilantro, chiles and scallions.  Wash your Boston lettuce and dry it well.  Using a lettuce leaf, place some of the shrimp/vegetable mixture in the lettuce leaf.  Top with the extra peanut lime sauce, lime cream, cilantro, scallions and chiles.  Enjoy!

 

Salmon “Burgers” and Caesar Slaw

Well, I am immediately declaring Rachel Ray’s Salmon “burgers” the best I’ve ever had.  I”m not sure why she calls her salad “slaw” but maybe it’s because she uses radicchio?  Anyway, these were awesome salmon burgers even though they didn’t use buns…you could totally put them on a bun.

Our can of salmon made 4 patties.  Here’s the last one before I gobbled it down:

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So here’s what you’ll need:

1 14 ounce can of Alaskan salmon, drained and flakes (of course bones and any bits of skin removed too)

2 egg whites (I used 2 whole eggs)

 a handful of fresh parsley, finely chopped (I used dried)

zest and juice of 1 lemon

3 garlic cloves, finely chopped

3/4 cup italian bread crumbs, 3 generous handfuls

black pepper and salt

4 anchovies, finely chopped  (she says optional, but come on!)

2 tsps dijon mustard

1 tbsp worcestershire

1/4 cup EVOO plus 2 tbsp

a couple handfuls of grated parmigiano reggiano

2 romaine lettuce hearts and 1 head radicchio (I used enough green leaf and romaine to fill my salad spinner)

In a bowl, combine the salmon, eggs, 2/3 of the garlic, parsley, lemon ZEST, bread crumbs and lots of black pepper.  A little salt too.  Mix well and let sit.  Eventually form into 4 patties.

Juice the lemon into a bowl (see how awesome that is?  You use the whole lemon, but in 2 different dishes).  Add the rest of the garlic, the anchovies, mustard and worcestershire.  Mix it all together then whisk in the oil and add 2 handfuls of parmesan.  I also add 1 tsp of mayo.  It holds everything together really well.

Preheat 2 tbsp oil in a heavy pan.  We cooked ours in a cast iron skillet on the grill to avoid that fishy smell in the house.  It worked great!  Anyway, cook the salmon patties until they are golden brown on one side.  Flip and do the same on the other side.

Just before the patties are ready, put all your washed lettuce/radicchio into a large bowl and coat with the caesar dressing.  Serve the patties on top of that or on the side if you prefer.

I made a wasabi mayo to go with the patties:  about 3/4 cup of mayo, 1 tbsp soy sauce, 1 tsp wasabi paste, a squeeze of lemon juice and 1/4 tsp sugar all mixed together.  It’s great! 

Here’s how good the salad was:

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Another Veggie Pasta Recipe

For our second Express Lane meals recipe I tried Rachel Ray’s “Vegetable Not-sagna Pasta Toss.”  I’d only give it 3 out of 5 stars.  It has potential, but I found it lacking a little flavor.  Perhaps the addition of sundried tomatoes, capers or even (gasp) bacon would help.

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Please excuse the bad photo.  I was tired after this one!

So for the pasta you’ll need:

1 pound curly short-cut pasta (this could be my first mistake…I used mostacoli which is not curly and is a little longer than she meant I think) such as campanelle or cavatappi.

1 10-ounce box of frozen chopped spinach

3 tbsp olive oil

1 medium zucchini (we like yellow squash better so I used that)

12 cremini or baby portobellow mushrooms, sliced

1 medium onion, thinly sliced

3 garlic cloves, chopped

Black pepper

1 jarred roasted red pepper, drained, patted dry, quartered lengthwise, then thinly sliced

1 tbsp butter (unsalted)

2 rounded tbsp flour

1 cup chicken stock

1 cup milk

1/4 tsp nutmeg (eyeball it)

1 1/2 cups part-skim ricotta cheese

1/2 cup grated parmigiano reggiano cheese

1 cup fresh basil

So cook the pasta and make sure to reserve 1 ladle full of pasta water.  

Defrost the spinach on a plate in the microwave.  Between 5 and 6 minutes will do it.  Let it cool slightly then place it in a dish towel (take it out of the box..haha) and wring it to get all the water out.

Thinly slice your mushrooms and zucchini. Add 2 tbsp to a pan and heat over medium high.  When the pan is hot, toss in the mushrooms and zucchini slices.  While that cooks, slice your onion and chop the garlic and add those to the pan as well.  Cook for about 5 minutes more, until the onions are tender.  Then add the spinach (separate into small bits) and the red peppers.  Toss to heat through then transfer this mixture to a bowl or plate.

Add the remaining tbsp of olive oil and the butter to the pan and let the butter melt.  Then add the flour and cook for a minute or so, then whisk in the broth and milk.  Let it bubble and cook (stirring once in a while) for 2 to 3 minutes until it reduces and thickens slightly.  Season well with salt, pepper and nutmeg and taste taste taste!  (I fell down on the job here).

In the mean time, mix the ricotta and water in a bowl and add in the grated parm.  The water should be hot when you add it, so if you need to reheat it, do so.  Drain the pasta, toss with the cheeses and then add half the vegetables to the sauce (I just added in everything).  Tear or shred the basil and toss into the pasta.  Taste and adjust seasonings.  Then top bowlfuls of the pasta with the remaining veggies and extra cheese.

I know it sounds crazy to think that didn’t have a ton of flavor…maybe a little cream cheese with the ricotta?  It just needed a little kick.  Even toasted breadcrumbs would give it a little something special.

The “master list” and Cacio e Pepe

Today after work I went shopping to complete the “master list” at the beginning of Rachel Ray’s “Express Lane Meals” cookbook.  You might want to read this post if you’re not sure why I was following the rules in this particular cookbook.

I walked out with a much lighter wallet, but not specifically because of the master list…I was also shopping for a dinner party Friday night.  Still, I bought things I wouldn’t normally buy (clams) but I’m excited to try some recipes with them.  I’ve now got plenty of broths, pastas, tomato bases (sauce, paste, etc) and cheese.

Tonight’s meal was one of Rachel’s Express Lane recipes:  Cacio e Pepe or, Cheese and Pepper Pasta.  My changes/substitutions are in parentheses.

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1 pound spaghetti

3 tablespoons butter (I used 2)

3 tabelspoons EVOO (I used 4)

2 teaspoons coarse black pepper (I didn’t have coarse, so I used 1 tsp)

1 cup grated pecorino romano cheese

1 box (or bag) frozen chopped spinach

3 to 4 garlic cloves, chopped

1 14-ounce can of cannellini or northern beans

1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

So start the water heating for the pasta.  In the meantime, chop the garlic and start defrosting the spinach (6 minutes in the microwave on high).  Get a large skillet and put the 2 tbsp of butter, 2 tbsp of oil and the pepper in it.  Heat it over LOW heat and let it hang out while everything else cooks.

Follow the pasta box directions once the water boils.  **You’ll need some of the pasta water at the end.  Don’t forget!  When the pasta is ready add a ladle of the pasta water to the butter mixture.  Careful, it might go a little crazy.  Then turn off the heat.  Add the pasta and toss it with tongs.  Add in the cheese and toss more.  If you need some more cooking water add a bit more then drizzle with some extra EVOO.

While the pasta is doing it’s thing, sautee the garlic in 2 tbsp of olive oil over medium heat.  Let the garlic cook for 2 minutes then add the drained and rinsed beans.  Put the defrosted spinach in a dish cloth (not paper towels) and wring it out to get out all the moisture.  Careful, it might be hot! Add the spinach to the beans and garlic and season with salt, pepper and nutmeg.

Serve the spinach and beans alongside the pasta.

REVIEW:  I was amazed.  HOW could the pasta have so much flavor?  I ate way more than one serving, I’m pretty sure.  The sauce was light, smoky and really flavorful.  The cheese added the perfect touch.  I added some red pepper flakes just for a kick and they were great too.

I’ll be making this again.  It was SO quick and easy!

Cookbook Revival

Recently I’ve been thinking about my cookbooks.  I have quite a few.  I’m sure not as many as some people, but probably at least 25.  A few are sentimental: the cookbook my mom made of all my Great Grandma’s recipes after her death and the Texas cookbook given to me by a dear friend who later passed away from ALS.

Others though, well…they’re just there.  You know how it is; there’s probably one recipe in a book that I might need once a year.  Some cookbooks I really wanted at the time and then I looked through them, marked some recipes and put them back on the shelf.  I do the same thing with cooking magazines.

Well NO LONGER.  Yesterday I decided that if I was going to have these cookbooks then I would use them.  I grabbed 2 off the shelf to flip through during the “Colbert Report” last night and all I can say is that I’m sorry I didn’t do this sooner.  So every few weeks I’ll focus on a different cookbook from my cupboard so that you can see what’s been hiding in there all these years.

First up:  Rachel Ray’s Express Lane Meals.

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(um, thanks Amazon…)

I used to love love love watching Rachel Ray.  She’s cute, perky and has some interesting ideas on getting good food on the table fast.  But after several cookbooks I began to tire of her and so, this one got ignored.  After flipping through it last night and again at lunch I can tell you it’s made me rethink some things.

1.  The “stocked pantry”:  Now, I’ve always made sure to keep pasta, chicken broth and a few other staples on hand.  Still, after looking over the very specific Master List at the front of this book I realized I have room for improvement.  So I sat here on my lunch break and made a list of items I needed to purchase in order to have everything on the “master list.”  It’s nothing bizarre unless you don’t like anchovies (they are fabulous in pasta sauce) or canned salmon.  Let’s face it though: with those two, some parmesan and a box of pasta you’ve just made a great dinner.  I’ll be keep my pantry fully stocked from now on.

2.  The book is divided into 3 sections:  the first for folks who are so tired a box of mac-n-cheese sounds great for dinner, a second section for when you’ve at least got enough energy to lean on the stove, and a third for nights when you can multi-task.  This is great.  For super fast dinner nights I can flip right to the beginning and for nights like tonight, when I’ve got more time, I can head to the back of the book.

3.  For every recipe she has a little list of what you’ll need to pick up at the store.  Never more than 10 items (express lane) and then she reminds you to have ingredients from your master list/stocked pantry on hand.  Some recipes are made completely from master list ingredients so there’s NO shopping involved at all.  I have a tendency to shop on my lunch break though, so running in to grab 1 or 2 items is ok with me.

4.  So over the next few weeks I plan to make the following from Rachel’s book:

Cacio e Pepe (Cheese and Pepper Pasta) and Spinach with White beans

Spinach Artichoke Cheesy Tortellini

Smoked Paprika Chicken with Egg Noodles

Turkey Sausage Burgers with Peppers and Onions

Fish Tacos with Avocado Dressing (we make fish tacos quite often, but I’m intrigued by her avocado dressing)

Double Dipped Buttermilk Chicken Fingers with Spinach Salad and Blue Cheese Dressing

Smoky Chipotle Chicken Corn Chowder 

My plan is to keep you posted on how these go and then move on to the other cookbook I grabbed last night:  Tyler Florence’s Tyler’s Ultimate.

Peach Balsamic Glazed Sweet Potato Hash

I was in charge of sides tonight and I had several bits of things I needed to use up:

1 sweet potato, 1 crown of broccoli, and about 2 cups of mushrooms.  So I cut the broccoli into spears, tossed it in salt and olive oil and threw it in the oven to roast (Ok, I did put it on a cookie sheet).  The mushrooms I quartered and began sauteeing with butter.  Later I added worcestershire sauce.  But what to do with the one lonely sweet potato?

Hash!  Ta-da! 

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First I diced the potato and put it and 2 diced cloves of garlic into a hot pan with olive oil (medium heat)

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I added about 1/2 cup of chopped red onion and just continued to cook everything, stirring occasionally, until the potatoes were soft and began to caramelize.  Maybe 15 minutes?  20?  Towards the end I added 2-3 tablespoons of peach white balsamic vinegar (a housewarming gift).  It bubbled happily and gave everything a beautiful glaze and sweet taste!  Make sure to season with salt, pepper and a sprinkle of cinnamon.

 

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